Blackwell leads ‘Dogs in the win against Air Force

Noah Blackwell (55) shoots a 3-pointer with an Air Force defender in his face at the Save Mart Center on Wednesday Feb. 20, 2020. (Armando Carreno/The Collegian)

Fresno State men’s basketball guard Noah Blackwell had the ball at the top of the key when he called forward Nate Grimes for a screen. As the Bulldogs forward came to set the pick, Blackwell drove in and faked a pass to trick Air Force’s weak side defender, scoring a layup to push the lead to 11.

After the game, Blackwell said he was hoping the defender would bite on the fake. 

“Well I hoped he went for it, first off, because if he didn’t I would have traveled, and I’m happy I didn’t do that,” Blackwell said. “Just saw I could finish the play and I did.”

The Bulldogs went on to beat the Air Force Falcons 71-59 on Wednesday night at the Save Mart Center. Blackwell led the team in scoring, tying his career-high of 25 points. 

Unlike Saturday’s game, the Bulldogs jumped out to an early start in the first half. After Grimes dunked the ball off an alley-oop, the ‘Dogs led 15-7. 

Still, the Falcons surged back, tying the game at 20 after guard Caleb Morris made a three-pointer. To open the game, Air Force made its first four of seven three-pointers to cut into the Bulldogs’ lead.

Both teams traded baskets for the rest of the half, and the Bulldogs finished the half up 32-28 after Blackwell passed the ball to forward Orlando Robinson for the layup.

In the second half, the Bulldogs missed their first three shots, and Falcons guard Sid Tomes made Air Force’s eighth three-pointer of the night. With the basket, the Falcons led 36-35.

The Falcons only led for 31 seconds in the entire game as Blackwell quickly countered back. The senior drained a three in the left-wing and created some separation from his defender, drilling a 15-foot jumper.

The Bulldogs eventually pushed the lead back up to double-digits when guard Niven Hart slammed back-to-back dunks in transition. Four minutes later, the ‘Dogs committed multiple turnovers, and the Falcons cut the lead to six.

In the press conference, Bulldogs head coach Justin Hutson said he was upset about that stretch.

“I was a little ticked off about that. I want us to mature a little bit through that,” Hutson said. “I don’t mind mistakes, and they happen, but we have to learn from that. I try to show positive stuff when we come back in tomorrow, but we’re going to have to show some of this stuff when we miss leads and we let up and we don’t make the team beat us.”

Fresno State moved past their mistakes and jumped out to their biggest lead of the night, 65-53. Bulldog freshmen Anthony Holland and Jarred Hyder made back-to-back threes to close out the game.

After Blackwell, Robinson was the second-leading scorer with 10 points. Hart added nine, and Hyder and New Williams both racked up 8 points.

The ‘Dogs won the rebounding battle at home, grabbing 43 rebounds to the Falcons’ 33. Grimes led the Bulldogs with 14 rebounds, and Holland was second with 11.

The game was huge for Blackwell who’s missed 11 games in his senior season. After the game, Blackwell said he’s doing better now and getting ready for the tournament.

“I feel relaxed, today I was a little sick, but I feel like I’m back to normal, 100 percent,” Blackwell said. “I’ve had a couple of injuries, but there’s no excuses for that.”

Hutson said Blackwell made some big shots to lead the team to their 10th win of the season.

“Noah has been playing well. He’s a true good shooter,” Hutson said. “He’s leading a little bit more with the ball, not as vocal as I would like, but he sure is leading by example and he got the ball tonight. He took care of it, and found guys who contributed to our win.”

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